America’s Best Pie Joints

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Family Pie Shop; De Valls Bluff, Arkansas

The hours of operation at Mary Thomas’ Family Pie Shop are erratic (call before you go) and her home business in rural Arkansas is not exactly designed for public dining (just a few stools at a short counter in a storage room near the kitchen). Most business at this ramshackle roadside bakery is takeout, but the good news is that in addition to making full-size pies (which both Governors Clinton and Huckabee regularly procured from Little Rock, an hour away), Mary makes ready-to-go single-serving sizes suitable for eating off the dashboard. There is nothing simpler or more perfect than her featherweight egg custard pie, and sweet potato pie is a Dixie classic. Mary’s is the place to savor that Arkansas favorite, fried pie—apple, peach, or apricot filling inside a crescent of pastry dough, deep-fried until brittle. (U.S. Hwy. 70, De Valls Bluff, AR; 870-998-2279)

Candel’s By-Way Café; Stanford, Montana

Baker Sheila Candelaria of Candel’s By-Way, in the crossroads town of Stanford, Montana (population: 399), credits her pie prowess to her mother, from whom she learned to cook growing up on a ranch 17 miles south of town. She explained that no machine can work dough the way expert hands can, because only a seasoned pie maker can feel when it’s been kneaded just enough—or as she calls it, “hand-squished.” Coconut cream, lemon meringue, and sour cream raisin are among the prizes that lure fans from far and wide. (36619 U.S. Hwy. 87, Stanford, MT; 406-566-2992)

Blue Bonnet Cafe; Marble Falls, Texas

At the Blue Bonnet Cafe in Texas Hill Country, a sign mounted on a wall in the dining room advises, “Try Some Pie.” Excellent advice! Of course you want a slice of pecan made with big Texas-grown nuts, but also not to be missed is the house specialty, peanut butter pie, which is a silky-textured whipped peanut filling topped with a thick ribbon of ivory white cream. It is sent to the table accompanied by a paper cup full of chocolate sauce for diners to pour on or use as a dip for each forkful. (211 U.S. Hwy. 281, Marble Falls, TX; 830-693-2344)

Royers Round Top Cafe; Round Top, Texas

Between Austin and Houston in the middle of nowhere, Round Top (population: 89) is known for its colossal quarterly antiques show and for Royers Round Top Cafe, which is nothing less than pie paradise. Bud’s chocolate chip is the dreamiest variety, but you can taste several by ordering a pie sampler of four different kinds (all except the fruit pies) with plenty of Texas-made Amy’s ice cream. (The menu threatens a 50-cent surcharge for anyone who does not get their pie à la mode.) Royers is set up to mail-order pies, and devotees enroll in one of Bud Royer’s pie plans. They range from a pie every two months for a year to pie-of-the-month for life. (105 Main St., Round Top, TX; 979-249-3611)

Julian Pie Company; Santa Ysabel, California

For anyone with a nose that works, the sign on the door of the Julian Pie Company is redundant: “Begin Smelling.” The moment you enter this suburban San Diego spot, the spicy scent of apple pie oozing from the oven is so voluptuous you can’t even inhale without feeling lascivious. Varieties include Dutch apple with a crumb top, boysenberry apple, strawberry apple crumb, and apple rhubarb crumb. If you don’t have time to sit for a wedge, take heart: The Julian Pie Company makes one of the greatest snack foods anywhere—bite-size pieces of pie crust sheathed in cinnamon sugar and baked to become savory-sweet cookies. A variety of pies can be mail-ordered via the company’s Web site. (21976 U.S. Hwy. 79, Santa Ysabel, CA; 760-765-2400)

Jane and Michael Stern are the authors of Roadfood, now in its the eighth edition, and, a source for reviews, recipes, and tasting tours of good eats nationwide. Longtime contributors to Gourmet magazine, they last wrote for Gourmet Live about the best beach food in the country.

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